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Sun 30 Nov 2014

On the road. View from cycle rickshaw.

On the road. View from cycle rickshaw.


There were few tourists in Phitsanoluk, where I stayed for one night en route to Mae Sot. I had my meals at the restaurant in my hotel, where they had an English menu, which the other restaurants nearby did not have. Like in Phrae, people in Phitsanoluk spoke minimal English.

Yesterday I arrived in Mae Sot, Thailand, near the border with Myanmar. As I got off the bus I was met by a man with a friendly, weathered face with skin as brown as mine and a big smile speckled with silver teeth. He asked where I was going, and I told him the name of my hotel, which he said he knew, and he offered to take me there in his cycle rickshaw.

I hesitated for a moment as I was not used to the idea of someone physically exerting himself to transport me, especially for the low price he was asking; but I quickly reminded myself that this was his livelihood and that I would be helping him make his living. He cheerfully and efficiently conveyed me to my hotel. I thanked him with the few words in Thai that I knew, saying “kup kun krub,” and gave him a generous tip. I asked if he was from Myanmar (as I had suspected when I first saw him) and he confirmed he was.

From my research about Mae Sot I learned that there were many people from Myanmar here, some working with legalized status, others working without documentation, and others having arrived as political refugees. Sadly, Mae Sot is also a destination and transit point for human trafficking. Many international NGOs have a strong presence here because of these social and human rights issues.

So despite having few merits as a tourist destination per se, there were a large number of foreigners here, mainly long-term NGO workers, or tourists like me who were planning to cross the border into Myanmar.

Mosque in Mae Sot.

Mosque in Mae Sot. Many of the Muslims in Mae Sot are ethnic Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.

My teak paneled room at the Ban Thai Guest House.

My teak-paneled room at the Ban Thai Guest House in Mae Sot, Thailand.

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Thu 27 Nov 2014

Khum Jao Luang House, Phrae.

Khum Jao Luang House, Phrae.

Khum Jao Luang House, Phrae.

Khum Jao Luang House, Phrae.

Phrae is the capital city of the Thai province of the same name, and is the former center of Thailand’s teak industry. The province still contains one of the country’s largest reserves of teak forests, according to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).

Not surprisingly, the “old city” of Phrae, the part that was originally protected by a fortified wall and moat, is full of teak houses. The TAT notes that in addition to many traditional Thai style homes, Phrae has a number of “colonial style” teak homes, many built by European teak traders in the 19th century. (By the way, Thais are very proud of the fact that Thailand was never colonized).

In addition to the notable teak architecture, Phrae has several Buddhist wats. However, after seeing many wats in various parts of the country, I was feeling a bit “watted out.” So I decided to have a look at some of the teak houses here.

Vongburi House, Phrae.

Vongburi House, Phrae.

Vongburi House, Phrae. Take note: that is not a keyboard on the desk, it is an abacus!

Vongburi House, Phrae. Take note: that is not a keyboard on the desk, it is an abacus!

Selfie in antique mirror, Vongburi House.

Selfie in antique mirror, Vongburi House.

This must have held something important! Vongburi House, Phrae.

This must have held something important! Vongburi House, Phrae.

Wichairacha House, Phrae.

Wichairacha House, Phrae.

Wichairacha House, Phrae.

Wichairacha House, Phrae.

Wichairacha House, Phrae.

Wichairacha House, Phrae.

Hub & Axle. Old cartwheel found under Wichairacha House, Phrae.

Hub & Axle. Old cartwheel found under Wichairacha House, Phrae.

From document at Vongburi House, Phrae. (Source unknown).

From document at Vongburi House, Phrae. (Source unknown).

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Wed 26 Nov 2014

On the way to Phrae (taken through the window of a zooming bus!)

On the way to Phrae (taken through the window of a zooming bus!)

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I arrived in Phrae today after a four-hour bus ride from Chiang Mai. In the morning I had called to arrange a home stay in the old city with a woman named Priwan, who herself picked me up at the bus station.

Ms. Priwan

Ms. Priwan

Her home consisted of a few large teak buildings surrounded by a garden. The house had six guest rooms, and (conveniently for me) she prepared only vegetarian food in her kitchen. A short time after arriving I was seated in the garden having some stir fried noodles and vegetables along with a cold herbal tea.

There were a number of other guests staying there, including couples from Germany and France, a Spanish woman who arrived on a motorbike, and a trio of young Italian women.

In addition to running the guest house Priwan also worked as an English tutor, and in the afternoon there were a few school age children sitting at her study table.

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In the early evening I walked around the small town, finding the remains of an old moat in the middle of which there was a dancing fountain. Later on in my wanderings I encountered a local street fair, where I bought some sweets from a vendor and watched a music and dance performance.

Near entrance gate to the old city of Phrae.

Near entrance gate to the old city of Phrae.

Near entrance gate to the old city of Phrae.

Near entrance gate to the old city of Phrae.

Magical Fountain!

Magical Fountain!

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Dancers at street fair.

Dancers at street fair.

Sweet vendor at street market, Phrae.

Sweet vendor at street market, Phrae.

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Tue 25 Nov 2014

On the grounds of a wat in Chiang Mai

On the grounds of a wat in Chiang Mai

Ironically, the best way for a tourist to have an “authentic” experience is to avoid other tourists and spend more time with the locals. Regretfully I was not interacting much with true natives since Chiang Mai is a very touristy city. In fact, Thailand is one of the top ten tourist destinations in the world and the second most visited country in Asia (after China), according to the UNWTO.

Breakfast. Fresh papaya and pineapple, a strong Thai-style tea, and banana chocolate-chip muffins.

Breakfast. Fresh papaya and pineapple, a strong Thai-style tea, and banana chocolate-chip muffins.

Both in spite of and because of its touristy nature, Chiang Mai is a very comfortable place to hang your hat for a few days or weeks, if not longer. The weather is pleasant, the cuisine diverse and tasty, and the wats are peaceful. It is relaxing and fun to stroll aimlessly or cycle around the old city. There are used book stores with loads of titles in English. Wifi is everywhere, even in the wats. With all these amenities, it is still easy on the wallet.

Free WiFi at a Buddhist Monastery!

Free WiFi at a Buddhist Monastery!

I explored the option of visiting a few other destinations in Thailand, such as Pai and Chiang Rai, recommended by other travelers. Based on my research I suspected that these places would also be full of tourists, so I opted not to go. One possible exception was Phrae, which I was thinking of visiting after Chiang Mai before I made my way to the Thai-Myanmar border.

I anticipated having more interesting and novel experiences in Myanmar which only recently opened its doors to international tourism. I downloaded some books that I thought would help me prepare for my travels in Myanmar. A Bike Tour in Myanmar recounts the recent 12 day journey of two middle-aged women riding a tandem bicycle through Burma. While I was not planning to do a bike tour, much of the practical and cultural information provided by the authors would be useful to both the bicycling as well as biped independent traveler.

Selfie with terra cotta background.

Selfie with terra cotta background.

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Fri 21 Nov 2014

Wat Inthakin Sadue Muang, Chiang Mai.

Wat Inthakin Sadue Muang, Chiang Mai.

It seemed there was a Buddhist temple around every corner in Chiang Mai. On occasion I would drop into one and meditate for a short time.

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Wat Inthakin Sadue Muang, Chiang Mai.

 

Baby Buddha!

Baby Buddha!

Baby Buddha!

Baby Buddha!

My hotel room was comfortable enough. But it was more interesting to walk the winding lanes and explore the temples, taking breaks at a cafe for a fresh juice, tea or soda. Almost all the cafes and restaurants had Wifi, so while having a drink I could upload some photos and narrative to my blog.

Having a Thai iced tea while listening to this guy playing the piano. He was pretty good!

Having a Thai iced tea while listening to this guy playing the piano. He was pretty good!

Nothing like a Chang (soda) to beat the heat.

Nothing like a Chang (soda) to beat the heat.

Chiang Mai has a few good museums, mostly focusing on the cultural, political and archeological history of the region. Today I took the afternoon to visit the Lanna Folklife Museum.

At the entrance to the Lanna Folklife Museum

At the entrance to the Lanna Folklife Museum

Lanna, meaning “million rice fields,” was a kingdom geographically located in what is now northern Thailand, Laos and Burma, with Chiang Mai at its center. The kingdom lasted from about the 13th to the 18th century. Most of today’s northern Thais trace their roots to this civilization and today the word Lanna is used broadly to describe the cultural traditions (language, music, art, etc) of these people.

Traditional water jugs at the Lanna Folklife Museum

Traditional water jugs at the Lanna Folklife Museum

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Wed 19 Nov 2014

A Random Selfie in Chiang Mai!

A Random Selfie in Chiang Mai!

Chiang Mai is a five hour bus ride from Sukhothai. It is situated in the hills of northern Thailand and it is reported to be cooler and less humid year-round than Bangkok. During my stay I found the weather to be very pleasant, reaching a high of no more than 30 degrees Celsius during the day and dropping to around 19 at night, with moderate humidity.

The Moat around Chiang Mai.

The Moat around Chiang Mai.


Part of the old city wall.

Part of the old city wall.


The Moat.

The Moat.


The Wall.

The Wall.

There are several big Buddhist monasteries or “wats” as they are called here, and at least as many smaller ones spread throughout the square-shaped old city, which is surrounded by a moat originally dug in the 13th century. I saw large fragments of the centuries-old walls that had been built along the moat. The narrow streets were teeming with tourists from around the globe, and the eastern side of town, both inside and outside of Chiang Mai’s eastern gate, was full of guesthouses and restaurants.

One of the wats (I forget which one).

One of the wats (I forget which one).


Wat?! Yes, another wat...

Wat?! Yes, another wat…


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Wat Phan Tao, made of teak.

Wat Phan Tao, made of teak.


"Chedi" (another name for stupa) at Wat Chedi Luang, in the center of Chiang Mai. This chedi was completed in 1441.

“Chedi” (another name for stupa) at Wat Chedi Luang, in the center of Chiang Mai. This chedi was completed in 1441.

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Mon 17 Nov 2014

The Bus

The Bus

This morning I caught the bus back to Sukhothai Historical Park.

Just like yesterday, as soon as I got off the bus, there were several women jumping up and down holding signs that said “bicycle” while calling out “bicycle! bicycle!” with big smiles on their faces. Competition is fierce! This time I rented from another outfit right next to the one I used yesterday, to tour the western region of the park.

The western region is the largest in area and the ruins are spread out and in poor condition. Because of this, it is not a priority for tourists, and fewer people visit the area. This proved to be an advantage for me as I was able to enjoy some peace and quiet while riding around the ruins.

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Brick worn down over centuries.

Brick worn down over centuries.

Remnants of an elephant.

Remnants of an elephant.

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I didn’t knock it over — it was like that when I got here!

At one of the sites I was joined by a whole herd of grazing cows. One of them nuzzled me as I was trying to take a photo, and I turned and said “Hello There!” in English, which did not elicit any response from the cow, who likely only knew Thai.

Can you spot the Grazing Cow? There were several behind me too.

Can you spot the Grazing Cow? There were several behind me too.

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